Watch and Brand News The Olympics: A Look at Omega and Timing

Early Omega Olympic Ads

The Olympics stretch back to Ancient Greece, but back in the Hellenistic period milliseconds didn’t really matter in the events. Fast forward to the modern games and every second counts for the quest for victory and Omega has been helping keep time.

Since 1932, the watchmaker has been the official timekeeper of the Olympics and their legacy continues this year in Rio. Omega also releases watch collections lining up with the host city and earlier this year we took a look at the Rio 2016 collection when the Olympics celebrated 120 years.

First Timekeeper at the Olympics

Although chronographs had been around for at least a century, in 1932 Omega created their own split-second or rattrapante chronographs to accurately time the sporting events in the Los Angeles Summer Olympics. The watches were actually pocketwatches and were resurrected after almost a century by the watchmaker in 2014.


Sports Technical Director William Henry said during the Games, “It is impossible to contemplate the wonderfully successful Olympic Games without recognizing the part played by Omega in this great international event.” In 1948 during the St. Moritz Winter Games, Omega had a game changer. Up until this point, people believed people timekeeping was the only way to record results, but the watchmaker used an automatic timing device with a photoelectric cell to stop the timing. This is where modernity began.


“Photo-finish” is a term that you might not know the origin of. Omega can take credit for it though. In 1992 in the Albertville, France Winter Games, Omega created a Scan-O-Vision camera system that digitally measured times to the nearest thousandth of a second as the athletes finished their races.

Omega Photofinish and ScanOVision

Their Photo-finish camera takes images of a variety of sports and races. It takes up to 2000 shots per second at 2048 pixels vertically. It also has a high light sensitivity allowing it to work in lower light conditions. In 2016, the technology is available as a software program so anyone can use it.

2010 Winter Games

The 2010 Vancouver Olympics were the first to have an electronic starting pistol. Looking at the device, its functionality is not immediately clear, but this redesign is amazing. Instead of just having a traditional pistol sound, this one gives an equal chance to all participants. The athlete closest to the starting pistol would have a slight advantage over those located further away.

Omega at the Olympics

Omega created this electronic pistol that actually makes no noise. Rather, the starter is hooked to a speaker behind each athlete, so no one has the advantage.

Current Innovation

Omega is an Official Sponsor and Timekeeper for this year’s Olympics and their 27th Games. One of the events that will be watches by millions is the 100M Sprint to see if Jamaican runner, Usain Bolt or American runner, Justin Gatlin will take the gold. The 100M run is a hard event to time since the world record is at 9.58 seconds, so milliseconds matter.

Omega Olympic False Start Sensors

To compensate for this difficult timing, Omega placed built-in sensors in their starting blocks. Every loudspeaker is linked to the start pistol, so all contestants hear the start signal at the same time. Plus the sensors signal a false start if the equipment detects a reaction less than 100 milliseconds after the start. At the finish line, photocells stop the running time on TVs and scoreboards, so the audience and athletes are on the same page.

The 2016 Olympics take place from August 5th to August 21st.

Omega Winter Olympic Ads




About Katie VanEtten
Katie VanEtten is currently on the staff at International Watch Magazine and is excited to be writing for the Govberg Jewelers team. With a background in advertising and design and limited working German proficiency, she admires the minimalist approach of any NOMOS Glashütte piece, especially the Tetra.

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